Pittsburgh Ice Arena-based club competing in Tier II U16 national tournament
Ten new faces in the Pittsburgh Huskies locker room may have given the impression of a rebuilding season.
In reality, it may have brought all 18 players closer.
“That's a little scary from a coaching standpoint,” coach Vic Whann said. “But, they're very willing to accept their role as a team. There's no individualism on our team. We play together.”
The Huskies, by virtue of their USA Hockey Tier II Under 16-AA state championship, earned a spot in the organization's national championship tournament, being held through Sunday in Troy, Mich.
The Huskies are based out of Pittsburgh Ice Arena, formerly Valley Sports Complex, in New Kensington. Players are primarily from the Alle-Kiski Valley, but some travel from as far away as Butler and Shaler.
Of the three preseason goals the team set, they were only able to fulfill one: a state title.
The Huskies fell short of winning an International Silver Sticks regional tournament. The team may have been plagued by overconfidence in a semifinal loss in league championship play.
The third time was the charm, though, as the Huskies went 3-1, defeating top-seeded North Pittsburgh Wildcats en route to the title.
“We played them four times (during the season),” Whann said. “The beauty was that if you see a team four times, you know how they play. Our boys executed the game plan to a T.”
Leading the offensive charge is team captain Christian Miller, a sophomore at Kittanning.
“He is a captain in every sense of the word. On the ice, off the ice and in our locker room,” Whann said. “Even when we're away from the ice, he's our leader.”
Miller led the team with 71 points (42 goals, 29 assists) in 40 games.
At the high school level, Miller led all of PIHL Class A with 82 points in 22 games and helped Kittanning to the Penguins Cup semifinals.
“I put a lot of pressure on him. I tell him: ‘As you go, we go,' and he responds,” Whann said. “I couldn't say enough good things about him.”
Since early December, Clay Bachman has stood between the pipes. His contributions can be seen on the stat sheet and felt in the locker room.
The Butler native posted a 17-4-1 record and a .911 goals-against average through 22 games. Bachman took over the starting job when fellow Cley Pujol's season ended following hip surgery in February.
“(Bachman) is a phenomenal goalie. He's the guy that we depend on too much. That's the best way I can describe it,” Whann said. “He does such a great job for us. I think we leave him alone way too much to make a save, but most of the time he does.”
As national tournament play gets under way, Whann has high hopes for his team.
“If we could come out of our division (at nationals) at No. 1 or No. 2,” he said, “the sky is the limit.”
Dave Yohe is a freelance writer.